Friday, April 17, 2009

Dressage in eventing: It's different, isn't it?

For years many dressage enthusiasts (myself included) have watched chubby, pampered horses strut around the arena. They're born and bred to piaffe, they do their job well, and we at the sidelines watch those fabulous gaits in awe. I absolutely love it. But...

If you're heading for Rolex, get ready for a different kind of dressage. It's the dressage of hyper-fit predominantly thoroughbred blooded horses and their adrenalin junky riders. These pairs squeeze dressage training in with jumping. Is it as pretty as what Edward Gal and Isabel Werth do? Well, frankly no. But it is at least as interesting to see horses that are not bred solely for dressage, who work HARD for a living, and whose temperament is more suited to extreme sports than dressage. Take a look at this video of Polly Stockton and Tanglewood, and especially note the extedended trot work. What's with the left hind? Becky Holder's Courageous Comet gives a spectacular dressage performance, but when you watch him from behind it's hard to imagine those creaky back legs can do cross-country. These are working horses, for sure.


  1. Don't dismiss the work dressage horses do. The cardiac effort of a single 7-min Grand Prix dressage test is equivalent to performing a Grand Prix jumping course of 40 jumping efforts--and GP horses will do 2-3 of those tests in a weekend.

  2. This was a great post! I had actually never noticed the difference between the two levels.

    The video was interesting... I'd love to watch that horse go in person for a while, and really get a feel for what is going on back there.

  3. The standard of eventing dressage has definitely improved over the last few years!

    It used to be that you could win if your horse was super in jumping phases. These days the horse has to be great at all three phases, and the dressage is so much nicer to watch now because of that!!

    (Not sure about the hindlegs of the horse in the video though. My internet is playing up so I couldn't watch it all...)

  4. Very interesting video. The canter work was unusual looking to me; not sure what I was seeing there but some hesitancy?

  5. Hi, I don't mean to dismiss dressage as non-athletic, although I can see why some of my verbiage might lead you to think I feel this way. The concussive forces of jumping, and particularly eventing, can do more damage than dressage, though.

    I also don't mean to diss eventing dressage! The top scorers in eventing dressage put out a lovely test. But for the dressage enthusiast, eventing dressage will look a lot different, won't it? I was just thinking out loud about why this is.

    Jimmy Wofford wrote a tribute to an event horse that died after a long, successful career, and he made the comment that he thought the horse would be happy that "in heaven, there is no dressage." That tickled me. I think most event horses tolerate it more than love it.

  6. I so enjoyed this, thank you! One of my favorite dressage rides is, uh, an over sized roping I have some empathy for the lean, amped up, hot types doing dressage instead of their 'real' job.

    I liked how the rider kept pushing her horse on the vertical when he wanted to break and come through at the poll. (and put himself behind.)Nice work!

    I'd add to Jimmy Wofford's quote for horses who dislike dressage: "there are no circles in heaven"

  7. Good post.I have never watched this partnership before but even allowing for the difference between pure dressage and eventing dressage this really isn't good.

    If a horse showed this problem at lower levels I'd hope that the judge would stop the test because of possible lameness issues. Right from the first stride the horse doesn't want to bring the left hind through and swings it's 1/4's right on left voltes. It is very unconnected over it's back....such a shame and I'm amazed that the tough cross country doesn't cause problems.

    Is this a recent clip?

  8. Last year a lot of conversations focused on why so many horses and riders were injured or died eventing in recent years. The rise in importance of the dressage test ranked high among the many possible contributing factors. The argument goes along the lines that in dressage you need the horse to wait for the rider, but on an event course the horse needs to think more for him/herself.
    What do you all, the dressage enthusiasts, think of this argument?
    Another possible problem:
    My barn manager explained that jumping in eventing usually differs from show jumping and that caused many crashes. She explained that show jumpers push off mostly from their back end (makes sense), but that horses at a flat canter just can't do that and end up pushing off their forehand (not as much lift). Basically, that an event horse goes over jumps like a steeplechase racer.

  9. Emily - your post is incorrect.

    There are MANY MANY reasons for the fatalities and accidents in the last few years. Event horses do not jump flat. In fact, many of the accidents were cause at showjump like fences set up on the cross-country course.

    There have been arguments that it is horsemanship and rider error, course design error, not enough qualifications needed, over facing horse/rider combinations, and much more causing the problems.

    If you care to learn more head to CoTH and search eventing fatalities.

  10. Veronica,

    Thank you for sharing. I've read quite a bit about it and seen a documentary. I just wanted to know what dressage enthusiasts thought about that one particular argument. I can see where some in the sport might wish for dressage not to be such a large scoring component and try to blame it for the tragedies. I don't know much about dressage, personally.

    The woman who told me about the jumping generally knows what she's talking about, especially since she is an outrider at Rolex.

    Thanks for commenting back! I really am curious to hear why people might make such arguments against dressage in eventing.

  11. Hi Veronica and Emily,

    I know only a smidgen about dressage, really, and less about eventing. But I'm pretty sure that Jimmy Wofford is one of the folks who feels that dressage has detracted from the cross country portion. He seemed to be describing a time when horses learned to figure things out for themselves cross country, and the new emphasis on dressage was making the horses less confident/more submissive, more reliant on their riders.

    I have to admit this didn't really strike me as the "full" explanation. There is nothing magical about dressage, it's just training, right?

    What do you think Veronica, did you read that article by JW? I certainly agree with you that there is probably more than one cause.


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